Twitter has long brimmed with overactive, abusive trolls, but for many, the harassment, abuse, and threats on the platform worsened and became more numerous during the 2016 presidential election. Indeed, President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign was dominated by hateful speech and threats against vulnerable populations. Sadly, his supporters followed suit in real life as well as online.
After outcry from Twitter users regarding regular abuse on the platform and a rise in trolling by so-called "Alt-Right" users, Twitter recently announced that it would toughen its stance on abuse, hate speech, and threats. It followed through by suspending prominent white nationalists from the platform. According to the company, its standards apply to every account, leading many users to wonder why Donald Trump’s account hasn’t been suspended given his problematic tweets.
Donald Trump should be suspended from Twitter, according to the rules Twitter itself has laid out for users on its platform. His use of his account break a number of Twitter’s rules as it pertains to abuse and harassment. For that reason, I have started a petition urging Twitter to suspend Trump’s account.
While Twitter’s policy is not to comment publicly on individual accounts, a spokesperson who spoke to Motherboard for a story published last Thursday made it clear that, at least in theory, nobody is exempt from the company’s rules of engagement.
Those rules regarding harassment and abuse are pretty cut and dry. According to Twitter, users may not “incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.” In terms of what qualifies as abuse, Twitter outlines a few criteria:
“if a primary purpose of the reported account is to harass or send abusive messages to others;
if the reported behavior is one-sided or includes threats;
if the reported account is inciting others to harass another account; and
if the reported account is sending harassing messages to an account from multiple accounts.”
Regarding “hateful conduct,” Twitter’s rules state: “You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.”
There’s no denying that Trump’s Twitter antics can be read as targeted harassment or incitement of harassment, which are prohibited under Twitter’s policies. Trump has not only viciously attacked individual members of the press and politicians, but also gone after private citizens. This is not only abnormal for an elected official, but it seems to stand in direct violation of Twitter’s rules.
Take for example Trump’s infamous 5 a.m. tweet about former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, who he falsely accused of being featured in sex tape. Trump also targeted a college student who attended a campaign event and questioned him about his treatment of women last year, using his Twitter account to call her an “arrogant young woman” for deigning to ask a him, then a candidate for the presidency, whether or not her reproductive rights would be protected if he were elected. Just last Wednesday, Trump used his Twitter account to go after Chuck Jones, president of the United Steelworkers 1999 and a representative for union workers at the Carrier air conditioner plant in Indianapolis.
“Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers,” Trump tweeted. “No wonder companies flee country!”
Trump tweeted again about an hour later, “If United Steelworkers 1999 was any good, they would have kept those jobs in Indiana. Spend more time working-less time talking. Reduce dues.”
And why did someone who is soon to assume the highest office in the country tweet attacks on a private citizen to millions of followers? Because Jones called out Trump for misinforming the public and Carrier workers about saving jobs at the Carrier plant.
The Washington Post reports that Trump claimed to have cut a deal with United Technologies, Carrier’s parent company. Trump told the company last week that he had made a deal that saved over 1,100 Indiana-based jobs from moving to Mexico when in fact, Carrier is only keeping 800 jobs of 2,100 jobs that were slated to move to Mexico, according to the Washington Post. For merely pointing out that Trump lied, Jones was put on blast by the president-elect—someone with 17.1 million followers. The harassment rolled in almost immediately.
Jones told MSNBC last Thursday that about half an hour after Trump tweeted, he started receiving harassing phone calls (Jones doesn’t have Twitter). One caller asked Jones what kind of car he drives, Jones said, and another told the union leader that they were coming for him.
“Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, you better keep your eye on your kids,” Jones said.
It was this incident that led Motherboard to contact Twitter about whether not the president-elect might be suspended.
As soon as Twitter’s new rules were in place, it banned so-called “alt-right” white nationalist figure Richard Spencer, who promptly pitched a temper tantrum, calling the suspension of his and other white nationalist accounts “corporate Stalinism.” So it’s not without precedent for Twitter to use the new rules to boot people who support Trump, although Spencer's account was reinstated over the weekend. Spencer has been shown on video leading a group of white nationalists in a Hitler salute to Trump, but Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has been disappointingly wishy-washy about his position on the "alt-right's" and Trump’s Twitter abuses.
“[Trump has] known how to use [Twitter] for quite some time. I think it’s an important time for the company and service. And having the president-elect on our service, using it as a direct line of communication, allows everyone to see what’s on his mind in the moment. I think that’s interesting. I think it’s fascinating. I haven’t seen that before,” Dorsey said of Trump’s use of Twitter at the Code Commerce conference last week, according to the Guardian.
Given that Dorsey sounds more or less proud of the fact that someone so powerful is using Twitter to communicate to the world, it doesn’t seem especially likely that Trump will be judged equally under the law of Twitter. And Dorsey does make a fair point about how Trump’s Twitter gives us a peek inside his thought process, something that could be valuable given Trump’s contentious relationship with the press.
The problem, of course, is that Trump lies. And he uses his Twitter to manipulate the truth, promote white nationalism, xenophobia, misogyny, and target individuals, leading to massive waves of harassment and abuse.
To be sure, Trump is violating Twitter’s rules and should be banned from the platform for his bigotry and penchant for inciting harassment. Will Dorsey and his team step up and do what needs to be done by banning him? It doesn’t seem likely, but for once, maybe Big Social will surprise us and act in the public’s best interest.